As an estate agent who has ‘crossed the line’ after 35 years in the industry to become a ‘hybrid’, I can honestly say that the only difference between us and the agents in the High Street is the fact that I can look out of a first-floor window rather than one on the ground floor.
Nothing has changed in the way we deal with our clients and the relationships that we strive to develop.
Why would a buyer want to walk the streets to look at photographs in a window, even on a large monitor, when they can look at multiple images, video tours and 360-degree walk-throughs on their iPad in the comfort of their own home?
These are the same clients who have given up reading their local newspaper which, ten years ago, was such a massive black hole in our marketing budget.
Something fundamental has changed in the way the public interact with estate agents, though.
They don’t generally want to talk to us, at least in the way that I would like and as early in their search as I would like.
In my experience, the majority of clients gave up on visiting agency offices some considerable time ago.
They will register with a property portal, wait for property alerts and save themselves the hassle of meeting young Justin in the corporate agency pushing their mortgage advice and conveyancing service.
Once, every applicant was a potential buyer and seller, and I would pride myself on being able to convince a client with a property to sell to allow me to arrange to value, and my conversion ratio from valuation to instruction was good!
Now we receive portal viewing requests, and the opportunity to properly qualify a client (motivation, ability, need) is very limited. The quality of the conversations that we have with potential sellers is incredibly important to gaining instructions, but now the big advertising spend of large brands means that they are getting more first calls to value.
It is now a case of being quick to respond to an initial enquiry and making the most of the opportunity to speak. A reply by email is wasted as you will never find out the objections that you need to overcome or the compromises that a client will make in order to sell or buy.
I have checked the available stock in my operating area on Rightmove today: 488 properties available with 58 being duplicates on multi-agency so, in reality, there are 430 properties for sale, which is just more than half of what was available this time last year. However, those instructions are shared between 70, yes 70, estate agency brands.
There are eight agents who are based in nearby areas, and a few more for whom residential property is not really their thing.
The big difference this year is the online agents.
Those who are active locally, and eating into market share, include Purplebricks, Bettermove, eMoov, Ewemove, Express Estate Agents, E-Zy Property, GetMeMoved, Hatched, House Network, Housesimple, Easyproperty, The Good Agent, Tepilo and Yopa, in addition to which there are a couple of local guys working from their garages.
Between them they have over 10% of the instructions.
I am not going to have a pop at the ‘property experts’ from purely online agents. I know plenty who have moved from corporate agencies and have adopted the same policy of quoting high values to gain instructions as they did at their former employers. It seems that it was what they were expected to do.
However, if the fee is paid upfront, then there is not the imperative to look for reductions later as their fee is in the bag.
I do know, however, that some of those LPEs really do understand that they need SOLD boards up to get more instructions. Even in today’s new media market, boards still breed boards.
So, do we really intend to ignore the threat?
There is a possibility – a growing one in my opinion – that at a time when every instruction is hard fought-for, when sellers are counting their pennies, when inflation is rising and incomes are not, then the appeal of low-cost agency may just be starting to win people over.
Most people are pretty clued up.
In general, they know what they expect to achieve when they sell and have researched using Mouseprice, Zoopla, Rightmove, etc.
Equally, many buyers make their offers on evidence of similar sales, just as we use comparable evidence on valuations.
I don’t really want to ‘value’ the property; what I want is the opportunity to pitch for the instruction, to sell my traditional estate agency service, albeit one without a window for the negotiators to stare out of. Everything else we do, from listing to legal completion, is in line with the service standards that I have been trained and trained others to provide over the past 35 years.
My friends say that estate agency is simple. Put a picture on the internet and rake in the money!
My job is to maximise viewings, make it as easy as possible for people to view, to find the buyer who will pay as much as possible, and not the one who will pay as little as they can get away with.
There are other changes on the horizon, set to alter my working pattern. I am just mulling over the renewal of my Money Laundering Regulations registration and the commitments I am making to ‘knowing’ my customer.
It also looks as though I, my fellow directors and shareholders will be required to register as evil estate agents with HMRC in the coming year.
Further, should I carry out risk assessments on all my properties prior to viewings in case a client slips, trips or falls down a well and I am then held responsible? And is my data protection policy all it should be?
As a youth, I had friends who worked at Comet and Jessops.
They didn’t think their trade would change.
Their customers didn’t give a damn about the survival of those stores if they could buy their cooker or camera cheaper online, and after-sales service didn’t matter until something went wrong, by which time it was too late.
Come to think of it, I also had a friend who rented out VHS video tapes!
Alan Paske joined Connells in 1983, moving to Black Horse Agencies/Bradford & Bingley in 1993. In 2004 he moved to independent agency as group general manager of an independent chain of five offices. After working abroad in the industry, he is now managing director of an Essex-based estate agency